Mel Gibson Term Paper

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Biographical Background

Born Mel Colm-Cille Gerard Gibson in January of 1956, Mel Gibson is one of the most controversial but well-known actors and filmmakers in America. When Gibson was a teenager, his parents moved the family—including Mel and his ten siblings—to Australia, ostensibly to prevent their children from being drafted into the Vietnam War (“Mel Gibson Biography”). Mel Gibson completed his high school and university education in the Sydney area, where he also became involved in theater. His forays into acting eventually earned him a role in Mad Max, his first major acting role. The first Mad Max movie came out in 1979; by the third sequel Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome in 1985, Gibson was earning over a million dollars for his acting performances (“Mel Gibson Biography”). In 1987, Gibson starred alongside Danny Glover in the buddy action movie Lethal Weapon.

Gibson made his directorial debut with The Man Without a Face in 1993. In 1995, Gibson directed Braveheart, which earned Gibson greater accolades and attention including several Oscars. His next big directorial project was Passion of the Christ in 2004, which was highly controversial and led to an exposure of Gibson’s anti-Semitic views, inculcated in part by a father who was a Holocaust denier (Brennan). In fact, soon after Passion of the Christ was released, Gibson was stopped on drunk driving charges and was caught on record making anti-Semitic comments. His comments caused him to lose funding for a film he had planned to produce about the Holocaust (Brennan). In spite of his potentially disastrous public relations setback, Gibson pursued in his directorial career. He directed Apocalypto, released in 2006, and the critically acclaimed Hacksaw Ridge in 2016.

Major Contributions to Film

In spite of controversies, his personal beliefs, and a somewhat tarnished persona, Mel Gibson has contributed significantly to the American filmmaking landscape through a unique approach to epic dramas. Although Gibson started off as an actor specializing in action series franchises like Mad Max and Lethal Weapon, he became well established in Hollywood as both actor and director. In fact, Gibson worked hard to break out of the action film genre typecasting by starting his own production company called Icon.

Icon produced dramas such as Immortal Beloved (1994) and Anna Karenina (1997). Gibson himself starred in Icon dramas like Hamlet (1990), directed by Fraco Zeffirelli. However, Gibson continued also to star in “poorly received” films throughout the 1990s (“Mel Gibson”). It was not until he directed and acted in Braveheart in 1995 that Gibson received serious attention from the Academy. Braveheart was unique in that it combined the epic historical drama genre with the action tropes audiences found familiar. Gibson continued to hone in on similar themes and stories with his productions like Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto, and Hacksaw Ridge, all of which are based on historical narratives.

Characteristics of Mel Gibson’s Directorial Style

Since Braveheart, Gibson has developed a directorial style that focuses on epic historical dramas and historical personas. Gibson also has a penchant for capturing the mindset of a conscientious objector who must rebel against the society’s major social conventions and political institutions in order to achieve higher ethical objectives. His protagonists do not experience identity crises at all; rather, they are defined by their strong sense of self and their unwavering commitment to their ethical principles. Gibson’s films show how a persecuted or reviled man remains true to his principles, willing to make personal sacrifices and to use force when necessary to achieve political or moral goals. His choice of setting, camera angle, music and sound editing, mis-en-scene, and other cinematographic elements are used to tell stories through Gibson’s eyes. All of his major directorial projects are grandiose in scale, deserving of the designation “epic,” due to their sweeping narratives and relatively long formats.
Moreover, Gibson’s style is epic because of characteristic wide-angle shots, a predilection for including scenes with massive numbers of people juxtaposed with the interior world of the hero, and an affection also for military and battle aesthetics and motifs. Gibson’s style also includes liberal use of violence and brutality in order to convey major themes. The use of violence helps to manipulate audience emotional reactions and judgments of the protagonist.

Through his films, Gibson also appeals to stereotypically masculine models of heroism. Gibson also shows how a man’s individual choices can effect broader changes in the society, including historical reverberations. The hero must remain true to his ideals, fighting powerful foes in order to preserve or promote some important element of culture or morality. Moreover, the Gibson hero places his quest above his personal desires. Gibson likes also to direct in ways that provide a black-and-white vision or moral truth. There is no ambiguity in Gibson’s cinematic universe. The audience is not entrusted with making moral judgments. Gibson prefers to control audience reactions, telling a strong version of the story in a style that could even be called pedantic. In addition to choosing themes related to moral binaries and male historical personas, Gibson also cultivates a specific aesthetic in his films that set them apart from his peers.

Analysis of Films: Braveheart, Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto, and Hacksaw Ridge

Gibson’s most notable productions include Braveheart, Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto, and Hacksaw Ridge. These films share a considerable amount in common, with Gibson’s stamp as a director if not an auteur. Gibson shows himself to be equally as adept in directing for character development as for action and plot sequencing. Each of these films also conveys a similar theme of a man, the hero with his unwavering moral principles, pitted against an immoral world. Although Braveheart, Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto, and Hacksaw Ridge are about totally different historical eras and cultural contexts, there are common threads among them. Notably, Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto are unique in Gibson’s choice to use non-English dialogue and subtitles. All of these films aim to put the audience into the protagonist’s world.

Braveheart appeals to the “nationalist iconography” of Scottish identity and politics (Edensor 135). Telling this story on screen, Gibson captures the Scottish appeal for national identity and autonomy in the wake of centuries of British colonialism. In Braveheart, Gibson capitalizes on the near-mythic status of Sir William Wallace, a key figure in Scottish history (Edensor). Because Gibson captured the essence of Scottish nationalism and cultural pride, the film played to “packed houses” throughout Scotland (Edensor 135). Yet Gibson’s film also “resonated with American audiences and critics in a way that few medieval-themed films have been able to accomplish (Sharp 251). The reason for its widespread appeal is that Braveheart is about the triumph of the ordinary man over the far more powerful elite. Gibson creates a cinematic universe in which the audience unapologetically roots for Wallace in spite of the hero’s use of violence to achieve goals. Gibson achieves his goals by shifting between scenes focusing on literal and figurative close-ups of Wallace, and those that zoom out to present the overarching political, cultural, and historical context including the hypocrisy and betrayal of the elite. By focusing on Wallace and his point of view, Gibson also assumes the role not of an omniscient narrator but one who is biased towards the protagonist. Indeed, Gibson repeats this directorial strategy in his other epic dramas.

In addition to presenting a strong vision of political underdogs triumphing over their more….....

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Works Cited

Brennan, Sandra. “Biography.” Fandango. https://www.fandango.com/people/mel-gibson-237159/biography

Brown, Jeffrey A. “The Tortures of Mel Gibson.” Men and Masculinities, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 123-143.

Edensor, Tim. “Reading Braveheart: Representing and Contesting Scottish Identity.” Scottish Affairs, No. 21, Autumn 1997.

“Mel Gibson.” Biography. https://www.biography.com/people/mel-gibson-9310680

“Mel Gibson Biography.” The Famous People. https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/mel-colm-cille-gerard-gibson-2334.php

Sharp, Michael D. “Remaking Medieval Heroism.” Floreligium 15(1998): https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/flor/article/viewFile/14269/15352
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